Welcome to the website of the Columban Way
Born around 540 CE, Columbanus was one of the most influential spiritual and cultural figures of the early Middle Ages. In 591 CE,he sailed from Bangor in Northern Ireland with twelve companions, of whom the best known is Saint Gall. Over 30 years, they travelled across Europe, founding communities and monasteries in territories which represent seven modern European countries: Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy.
Columbanus and his closest disciple Gall were figureheadsof ‘Irish monasticism’, the first great European monastic movement, promoting literacy and learning, foreshadowing the great monastic movements of the Middle Ages. Columbanus was the first writer to express the concept of a single European entity, united by common Christian roots, overcoming individual,ethnic and cultural barriers.
The cities and regions across Europe where his memory still lives are now coming together to create a Cultural Route, an association based on exchange and mutual understanding.
Turas Columban/ Columban Way
From Mount Leinster to Bangor
Our understanding of Turas and Pilgrimage
“Turas” meaning “journey” or ‘pilgrimage’ is how best we can describe the Columban Way from an Irish perspective. The word itself, Turas is applied in many ways in the Irish language. Quoting Ó Denial’s, 1977 edition of Foclóir Gaeilge – Béarla, we find phrases such as; Turas Bríde, a pilgrimage dedicated to St. Brigid; Turas Farriage, a sea journey. Very significant as many pilgrim routes were over sea such as the Brendan Voyage; Go n-éirí do thuras leat, have a pleasant journey; Bhí mé ann Turas, I was there once, which gives the notion of being present in and to all aspects of the place.
The notion of pilgrimage and pilgrim is central to the Columbanus story. From the Latin peregrinus, the word comes from the compound of per + ager, meaning ‘who has gone’ through land and sea suggesting travel and which implies the notion of ‘foreign’ and ‘foreigner’. We see how Columbanus described himself as a Peregrinus pro Christi, a pilgrim for Christ.
We can conclude that Columbanus understanding of pilgrimage, it is much more than setting out on a journey to go from one location to another. The geographical destination was not the important goal but rather the journey itself which symbolised the inner journey of the person who was on the pilgrimage. The anthropologists Victor and Edith Turner have described “pilgrimage” as a “liminal” experience or threshold. We are travelling between worlds, we can cross borders and walk in different zones of experience. We hover on the threshold that brings us which brings us to a deeper, different world, a spiritual world perhaps, a spiritual world in the widest sense, to a place of some faith or answers to our searching.
Monastic pilgrimage represented an embodiment of scriptural imperatives to divest oneself of worldly attachments. For monks such as Columbanus, the “going out”, leaving one’s homeland was very much inspired by Sacred Scripture: the call of Abraham in Genesis 12 to leave country and people, the journey of the Magi who followed their star in Matthews Gospel chapter 2, the going to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover as seen in Luke chapter 2, the road to Jerusalem that Jesus set his eyes on.
We take our inspiration from the monastic movement across this island in the middle ages, whose monks are characterised, to quote Mary McAleese “as important bridges across both the miles and the millennia, men and women with a relevance today as we cope with a complicated world, always teetering towards man-made crises, able to drum up hatreds that waste lives, ever struggling to transcend the worst we humans are capable of and praying for the advent of the best we are capable of.”
In medieval times, the idea of pilgrimage was at its height with the development of El Camino de Santiago, which made its way across southern France to the shrine of St James in Santiago de Compostela. The journey of St Augustine from Rome to Canterbury in 597, (the same year in which the deaths of St Colmcille of Iona and St. Columbanus in Bobbio occurred) had its origins in the pilgrim way from Canterbury to Rome. Other pilgrim routes such as St Cuthbert’s Way in Scotland, Les Chemin Du Mont- Saint Michel in Brittany and Via di Francesco in Italy all had similar origins.
Our present project, as Kenneth has explained, for the Columban Way, which follows the pilgrim way of St Columbanus from Mount Leinster to Bangor on the island of Ireland, across the Irish sea to Brittany, through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy is that it also becomes recognised as a European heritage and cultural pilgrim route. While the route has already been traversed since the end of the 6th century by generations of people, be they monks, migrants, travellers or tourists, we in the 21st Century want to put this route back on the map. Across the island of Ireland, both here in Bangor and in Myshall, County Carlow, Wexford and Meath and as Columban missionaries we have both a unique opportunity and responsibility to create viable structures, pilgrim paths and sustainable projects to make the Columban Way/Turas Columbanus to reality for the people of the whole of Ireland today. The important aspect if this project is that it brings many cultures across Europe together at a time when it is crucial for the breaking down of barriers and for the creation of unity and cultural interchange.
More and more people want to go out, slow down and walk and engage with their surroundings. The Columban Way Turas Columbanus offer the pilgrim and walker an opportunity to slow the pace of life, to connect with land, water and the extraordinary landscapes along the route and enter into a real relationship with the earth that they walk on and with nature all around them. Such a walker or pilgrim is quite different from being a tourist as they engage with their environment, create conversations along the way, stop and cherish the present moment and give themselves the space and time to allow the inner voices of the spirit speak to them in the most unexpected ways. To follow in the footsteps of Columbanus is to connect with our historical routes and engage with the Ireland of the 21st century in all its tradition and heritage.
The modern Columban Way/ Turas Columbanus is not a revival of an existing medieval or middle ages pilgrim route that once followed the footsteps of St. Columbanus. It is rather a 21st century pilgrim/cultural walking trail inspired by the writings of Columbanus and the historical evidence of monasteries where he founded. Some of these routes along the Columban Way intersect with each other and follow the footsteps of many medieval monastic and Celtic saints. Sections of the route have historical evidence, while others are based on tradition and others again are a revival of trails that were once trod by a pilgrim people who honoured St. Columbanus.
It would be foolish of us to say that there is only one route to follow, as what we are setting out to do is create a walking path through north and south that binds us together as a people who share the same island in all its complexities and diversity.
Turas Columbanus Route
The walker starts out from either Bunclody or New Ross and makes his or her way to Mount. Leinster and down into the village of Myshall, Co. Carlow where it is alleged St. Columbanus was born. The route follows the Barrow Way to Monasterevin, continues to Kildare and then head towards Enfield to continue to Clonard. From there the walker travels to Trim through Ballivor. On leaving Trim, he or she heads for the Hill of Tara, passing Bective Abbey. The route from Tara to Navan brings one into the Dalgan woodlands. In Navan, walkers connect with the Boyne and follow the road to Kells and from there walkers take the direction of Ballyjamesduff to arrive in Cavan town. The route now goes towards Belburbet and on to Derrylin and Ballanaleck before arriving in Cleenish, County Fermanagh. Walkers may choose to visit Devenish Island before arriving at Cleenish island. The route then heads towards Enniskillen. Walkers continue to Clones through Lisnaskea and eventually arrive in Armagh. The route from Armagh heads to Downpatrick and connects with St. Patrick’s Way. Walkers take the route along Swinford Lough to arrive in Nendrum. The final stage of the Turas makes its way to Bangor, the final destination where St. Columbanus boarded a boat for Europe.
Much of this route is interwined with the legacy of a vast array of men and women – who choose to follow the pilgrim path and Irish monastic way. We have St. Mullins and St. Willibrord in Carlow; St. Killian of Wurzburg born in the village of Mullagh, Co. Cavan; Finnian, born in Myshall and founder of monastery in Clonard; we have Ibar of Wexford; Ciarán of Clonmacnoise; Brigid of Kildare; Kevin of Glendalough; St. Patrick of Armagh; Colmcille of Derry & Iona; Comgall a & Gall from here in Bangor. Many of these went further afield and like Columbanus left Ireland as pilgrims, never to return.
In recent years, much effort has gone into researching the many medieval routes across the Irish landscape where monks once trod as they made their way from place to place. Today almost every county in Ireland has a pilgrim route which follows the path of their local patron saint. Few historians can point with certainty to the precise route these monks took in going from one place to another. This is also true of St. Columbanus and hence the mapping out of Turas Columbanus is no easy task. However, there are key locations that form the route and that connect it accurately with the historical past. The legacy of St Columbanus and his mission give Turas Columbanus a north–south dimension which integrates the whole of the island of Ireland into one pilgrim/cultural walking route.
Columbanus would have grown up hearing stories about St. Finnian of Clonard and of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. He would have learned of the renowned Abbots of his time among them St. Sinell of Cleenish and St. Sinell of Cranny Island, who later became the 4th Abbot of Bangor. St. Patrick and St. Brigid would have been familiar household names. Places that were connected to these great saints, such as the Hill of Tara and the Hill of Slane where, according to tradition, the Pascal fire was first lit. St. Brigid monastery at Kildare was also well-known which is why the young Columbanus would have wanted to visit these places.
By leaving his home in Leinster, St. Columbanus had already become an exile. He was not a wanderer setting out to get to know the world. The young Columbanus was a man with a mission. He wanted to study Latin and the sciences in order to place himself at the feel of a ‘master’ and follow his dream to become a monk. Formal education was provided by the monastic school and Columbanus set out to seek advice from the Abbots of the monasteries that he was familiar with. In all probability, he would have headed for the monastery at Clonard, as both he and St. Finnian has grown up in the vicinity of Mt. Leinster. There he was guided to study under the guidance of the monk Sinell, who was the Abbot in Cleenish Island and who became his teacher and guide. Columbanus would certainly have stayed in monasteries at Clones and at Armagh on route to the monastery school in Cranny Island. Finally, he travelled to the monastery of Bangor, where he was to live as a monk for the next twenty years under the guidance of Abbot Comgall.
Justification for the route we have chosen
There is no direct account of the places which St. Columbanus would have stayed on this journey from Mount Leinster to Bangor. Nevertheless, we can assume that in all likelihood he would have wanted to visit the monastery at Clonand because of his own connection with St. Finnian. We can take it that Columbanus would also have wanted to visit the monastery in Kildare which was founded by St. Brigid which was flourishing at the time. Kildare was very important Church in the sixth and seventh centuries. From there he may have been was directed to the Abbot Sinell on Cleenish Island.
Since the political centre of Ireland at that time was the High Kings palace at the hill of Tara. As St. Columban’s, Dalgan, is in the vicinity of Tara and situated on the banks of the Boyne it is an importance place to make the connection between the historical past and the present. it is a symbol of the legacy of Columbanus today as many missionaries from all over Ireland and Britain studied here and crossed borders of language and culture to continue announcing the Gospel message beyond the frontiers of Europe. While in Dalgan the pilgrim can walk in the footsteps of St. Columbanus through the woodlands and down by the river Boyne.
We have drawn up a route to Cleenish Island which passes through important early Christian sites that are of interest to the pilgrim/walker today and provide a connection with Ireland’s ancient past. In so doing, we connect with other pilgrim and established walking routes such as, St. Patrick’s Way in Northern Ireland. Places such as Kells, Cavan and, Armagh are modern day towns that offer the walker with an opportunity to better appreciate the legacy of Irish monastic through the centuries.
The success of any route will be in the number of pilgrims attracted to walk it. The viability of any section of the route will be due to the amount of interest, promotion and response from local people in the area and tourist, community and church organizations. Over the coming years we will be able to see what sections of the Columban Way are more travelled than others and this will help us to consolidate a more permanent route. Local community involvement is crucial.
 First published in 1978, Victor Turner and Edith Turner. Image and Pilgrimage in Christian Culture is a classic work examining the theological doctrines, popular notions, and corresponding symbols and images promoting and sustaining Christian pilgrimage.
 Lecture by Mary McAleese, Columbanus, Gall and Notker. Abbey Library St. Gallen 7th May 2018
 Saint Finian, Saint Ciarán, Saint Brendan of Birr, Saint Brendan of Clonfert, Saint Columba of Terryglass, Saint Columba of Iona, Saint Mobhí, Saint Ruadhain, Saint Senan, Saint Ninnidh, Saint Lasserian, Saint Canice of Aghaboe
 “Jonas tells us that he went to a venerable man called Sinell, probably the abbot Sinell of Cleenish, Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh…he was a Leinsterman like Columbanus – a not unimportant fact – he came from the kingdom of the Uí Bairrche, in the vicinity of Carlow”. (Larkin, Aidan J., Columbanus, a Pilgrim for Christ, Cumann Seanchais Ard Mhaca, 2012.)
 T.M. Charles-Edwards.op.cit., page 425